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For the Panthers, Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final will bring immortality or infamy

For the Panthers, Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final will bring immortality or infamy
For the Panthers, Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final will bring immortality or infamy


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) It's simple now for the Florida Panthers: If you win on Monday, you'll be Stanley Cup champions. If you lose on Monday, you'll be the first team since World War II to take a 3-0 lead in the hockey title series.

Either way, the outcome will last forever.

It's probably the biggest NHL game in as many years, Panthers forward Matthew Tkachuk said.

He's not wrong, and for the Panthers, the 2,464th game in franchise history is undoubtedly the biggest ever. It's for all marbles, immortality awaits a win, disgrace awaits a loss. The fourth and last chance the Panthers will have a chance to win the Stanley Cup this season, with Florida hosting the Edmonton Oilers on Monday night in the final game of the season.

Florida won its first three games. Edmonton won the next three. Not since 1945 has a Stanley Cup final followed such a trajectory Not since 1942 has a team trailed 3-0 in the title series and gone on to win the fate Florida is trying to avoid.

It doesn't matter how it's gone, it doesn't matter how you set it up, Tkachuk said. They lost the first three games. We lost the next three. It is even now. It doesn't matter what happened to get to this point. …This entire season comes down to one game. At home. How can you not be so excited about this? This is absolutely incredible, an incredible opportunity.

The first three games, all Florida. The Panthers outscored the Oilers 11-4, had more hits and more blocked shots and seemed to be in full swing.

The last three games, all Edmonton. The Oilers outscored the Panthers 18-5, are hitting a video game percentage on 22.5% of their shots on goal, and have nearly twice as many blocked shots as Florida in that span.

Add it all up and it's 3-3. Game 7 is here.

You can look at every storyline, you can analyze everything, you can say how we fit together, they got the momentum and were right on our heels. It doesn't matter, Panthers forward Kyle Okposo said. It's your next game. You're only as good as your next game.

Never mind the rollercoaster ride the teams took to get here. It's only the 18th Game 7 in Stanley Cup Final history. Home teams have won 12 of the previous 17 (a good sign for the Panthers), but road teams have won each of the last three (a good sign for the Oilers).

Panthers coach Paul Maurice was asked if Game 7 will define legacies, including his own, given the historical significance of potentially squandering a 3-0 series lead.

I'll let you know at the end, Maurice said.

Maurice has heard this series of questions about winning the cup (something people try not to talk about until they've actually won the thing), being 3-0 up, the pressure that comes when opportunities are wasted, like in Game 4, Game 5. and Game 6, and many more along those lines. He's a smart guy. He understands why those questions come up.

But when he walked up to the players for a brief conversation during training on Sunday, it was not about the major consequences. It took the temperature of a team he still fully believes in, especially heading into Game 7.

There is a much bigger contextual story that means nothing to me now, but it means everything to you, Maurice said. Those are the stories you have to write. That's actually what makes this whole thing great, the context of it. No one has ever played a backdoor court in Canada and scored the Game 3 overtime winner in the qualifying round. It's always one game that excites you. And that is the context of this game and that is the context we will live in.

Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov, it will be him, or Oilers captain Connor McDavid who will receive the Stanley Cup from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on Monday night, agrees.

This is indeed it. Championship or collapse. The Panthers story will be written by Monday evening.

“I was definitely one of those kids who only played when I was outside or at home…and thought, this is Game 7 of the Stanley Cup playoffs, maybe even overtime,” Barkov said. You think about those moments. I've had a lot of those memories, but now it will definitely become a reality tomorrow. Exciting. The most exciting time to be a hockey player.


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